As I have said before, I'm not going to be engaging in too much media criticism on this blog, because once I get going on that score, there's no stopping me. But I'll make an exception today for an instance I found especially egregious. Kathleen Parker, whose widely syndicated Washington Post column I generally read and not infrequently enjoy, drew a most unusual conclusion today from Rick Perry's brain freeze: that Mitt Romney is one swell guy.
Romney, Parker writes, betrayed his true decency by throwing Perry a lifeline during the Texas governor's brutal blank-out over the third federal department he vowed to shut down.
From somewhere on the panel, a voice reached out to the struggling Texan, a suggestion that might help Perry gather himself and emerge from this utter humiliation. The voice belonged to Mitt Romney. As Perry’s brain was hardening into arctic pack ice, Romney suggested that maybe the third agency he wanted to eliminate was the EPA. Yeah, that’s it! But no, it wasn’t. Pressed by Harwood, Perry said it wasn’t the EPA, but blast if he could remember what it was. (Later he said it was Energy.)
Romney’s suggestion when most of the others were squirmingly silent was an act of pure kindness and self-sacrificing generosity. It was not especially noticeable. But if you were Rick Perry in that moment, you were well aware that Romney was the one who tried to save you. When Perry finally said, “Oops,” it was Romney toward whom he looked. Small, but not insignificant, this gesture of active empathy tells much about the man who extended it. He’s a nice guy in a season of nastiness, a trait that may also be his greatest political failing.
Really?? I have no idea whether or not Mitt Romney has a heart of gold. But this moment provided zero evidence either way. Not to be too cynical about it, but it's also entirely plausible that Romney realized in that instant that the most advantageous thing to do, as his most likely remaining challenger was flailing desperately beside him, was to appear magnanimous. It's also possible that Romney found Perry's brain-block as painful to watch as everyone else did, and that the basic human instinct to break the excruciating awkwardness overrode any schadenfreude he felt. But conclusive proof of Romney's profound niceness? To build her case for this grand judgment, Parker offers one more example:
Romney was shooting an ad on a hot day in a staffer’s yard. While the photo shoot was being set up, Romney was asked to bide time in the cooler shade of the staffer’s garage. When the staffer retrieved Romney 30 minutes later, he discovered that the candidate had swept and organized his garage.
A small thing. Or perhaps not.
Hmmm. Somehow "nice" is not the word that comes to mind in describing such a gesture. Instead, it seems to offer further evidence Mitt Romney may in fact be the grown-up version of this 1950s sit-com archetype.
But really, the best counter to Parker's theory of irrepressible niceness and decency straining inside the buttoned-down Romney is this ad, hands down the nastiest one produced so far in the 2012 campaign. Somehow I don't think Rick Perry or Vincente Fox or any Hispanic immigrant in America watching it comes away feeling all warm and fuzzy about Willard Mitt Romney.